Mario Pedrosa

Mario Pedrosa. Art: Marcelo Guimarães Lima


Entry from the “Dictionary of Marxism in America”

Life and political praxis

Mário Xavier de Andrade Pedrosa (1900-1981) was born in the Zona da Mata of Pernambuco. He was from his youth a stray son. His family came from plantation owners in the Northeast, who later turned to public administration; his father, Pedro da Cunha Pedrosa, was a senator and minister of the Court of Auditors. Mário Pedrosa was sent by his family, in 1913, to study in Europe, and stayed there until 1916. Between 1920 and 1923, at the National Faculty of Law in Rio de Janeiro, he came into contact with socialist ideas and Marxism, awakening to life political and intellectual at the service of the working class, a struggle he would never part with; he graduated in 1923, but his life would take other paths.

He was part of the first generation of communist militants in Brazil who joined the revolutionary struggle after the Russian Revolution (1917). In 1925, he approached the PCB through the newspaper A Class worker. The following year, he joined the party, and in March 1927 he started working in João Pessoa (PB) as a tax agent, but soon gave up the profession. In São Paulo, he took over organizing work for Socorro Vermelho (which supported communist political prisoners). Around the same time, he began writing regularly for the party's theoretical magazine, and worked as a journalist for the newspaper morning leaf.

At the end of 1927, he was recommended by the leadership of the PCB to attend the Leninist School in Moscow, a training course for militants of the Third International. In November 1927, already in Berlin, the political crises deepened within the CPSU, in the USSR. He would stay in Europe until 1929, and there he adhered to the proposals of the Opposition de Left Russia (led at the time by Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev), which opposed Stalin's power. Mário returned to the country in 1929, willing to build a nucleus of the Left Opposition in the PCB, and found a controversy in the party – about political alliances –, which opposed Rodolpho Coutinho to the majority of the leadership. He then began organizing the Group Communist Lenin (GCL), officially launched in 1930, with the publication of the newspaper Fight de Classes. In 1933, along with other militants, he founded Editora Unitas, which would publish revolutionary texts and books.

With the formation, in 1931, of the Opposition International de Left, the group led by Pedrosa changes its name to League Communist Brazil's (LCB). They act with the aim of combating, within the Third International (IC), Stalinism, seen as an orientation that moved away from democratic and revolutionary flags. During this period, the Third International leaned towards an anti-fascist policy, of class collaboration with sectors of the bourgeoisie. Furthermore, the pressure against opponents of Stalinism increased, with many expulsions due to disagreements with the leadership – an occasion in which even former Bolsheviks, who had been Lenin’s companions, suffered persecution.

In Brazil, Mário Pedrosa led the resistance, in particular the defense of working class unity in the fight against fascism – which was rising. In São Paulo, the FUA (Frente Única Antifascista) is formed, bringing together many socialist and anarchist organizations, which starts to edit the newspaper The Free Man (in which Pedrosa published several texts). In 1934, the FUA decided to stop the Integralist fascists from parading in São Paulo; an armed confrontation took place in Praça da Sé, and Pedrosa was one of those shot.

In the following years, there are new political shocks. Brazilian communists aligned with Moscow, guided by the Communist International to seek an alliance with the bourgeoisie, created the ANL (Aliança Nacional Libertadora) – in an attempt at a broad democratic front. However, the communist military adventure of 1935 would serve as a pretext for the repression of all workers' organizations, facilitating the path to the Vargas dictatorship. Pedrosa criticized the ANL for being born out of an agreement between leaders of the Communist Party and some military and petty-bourgeois politicians. His action won practically the entire São Paulo section of the PCB, led by Hermínio Sachetta, at a time of increasing persecution (dictatorship of the Estado Novo).

Mário Pedrosa went into exile in France in 1937, fleeing from the Varguista police, and soon joined the political tasks of the movement for the Fourth International, an offshoot of the Opposition International de Left. In 1938, at a conference held in Paris, he was a delegate, representing the Latin American sections; at the end he was elected representative of Latin America and member of the I Executive Committee of the IV International. The following year, he moved to New York with the entire leadership of the newly elected IV International, and two years later he left the organization for disagreeing with the proposal for the unconditional defense of the USSR.

With the end of the war in 1945 and his return to Brazil, Pedrosa directed the publication of the newspaper Socialist Vanguard in Rio de Janeiro, gathering former sympathizers. The group around the newspaper approached other socialist groups opposed to Stalinism, and would give rise to the so-called “Democratic Left”, which had its founding manifesto approved in August 1945; already in August 1947, it adopted the name of Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB), which would last until 1965. In 1956 the collective led by Pedrosa and Raquel de Queiroz moved away and formed the Democratic Action.

While actively exercising his political militancy, Mário Pedrosa developed the professional activity of an art critic – always basing his analysis on Marxism –, through which he sought to free Brazilian art from its national, provincial isolation. He defended for Brazilian art the need to renew the experience, the ventilated and internationalist spirit, while valuing the local identity. It was a political and libertarian position in relation to artistic production and creation, which clashed on the one hand with conservative nationalism, but also with the socialist and pamphlet realism of artists linked to the PCB or in its sphere of influence.

It was present at major art events from the 1950s onwards; he produced a dense theoretical work, with numerous articles; he was curator of the 1961 Art Biennial. he understood that it was necessary to see “art as the experimental exercise of freedom”. In 1959, he helped organize an international congress of art critics with the theme “Brasília, the new city and the synthesis of the arts”, bringing together different personalities from around the world to discuss the construction of Brasília. Throughout this period, he maintained an intense and constant journalistic militancy on political and art criticism issues in the main newspapers in the country.

The 1964 military coup brought Mário Pedrosa back to the forefront of direct political militancy. In 1966, he ran for deputy for the MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement), and published his books Brazilian option e Imperialist Option, high points of his Marxist political and theoretical elaboration. He began to develop a clandestine militant activity of registering and sending complaints to Amnesty International of cases of torture practiced by the Brazilian dictatorship.

In 1970, the police discovered his network; he managed to flee the country and sought refuge in Chile, then under the presidency of the socialist Salvador Allende – who proposed the creation of a Museum of Modern Art, an idea that he would embrace with enthusiasm. The new institution was named “Museum of Solidarity”, a project that ended abruptly on September 11, 1973, with the Chilean military coup. After a week in hiding, Pedrosa made it to Mexico and settled in Paris; in this new exile, he produced the work The World Crisis of Imperialism and Rosa Luxemburg.

Mário Pedrosa lived in Paris until October 1977, when, sick, he was able to return to Brazil, during the opening period of the military dictatorship – which took place due to popular mobilizations. The movement for the creation of the Workers' Party filled him with new hopes; he played an active role in the political struggle for the founding of the new party, arising from the concrete struggles of workers and youth. His famous letter to Lula – or “Open Letter to a Worker Leader” – calls for the construction of a new workers' party and for it to claim to be Marxist. His various articles in newspapers at the time testify to his political engagement during this period, which unfolded in numerous meetings and activities. In 1980, he published his book About PT; in the same year, he was honored and became the member number 1 of the PT, at the head of the signing of the book of minutes, on Sunday, February 10th – in which the party was founded.

He was 79 years old and gave a brief speech affirming the originality and strength of a new mass party that came out from below, from workers' and mass struggles, to build a new and original path of struggle. In November 1981, the newspaper Quibbler published his last interview, in which he stated: “Being a revolutionary is the natural profession of an intellectual… revolution is the most profound activity of all… I have always dreamed of a revolution for Brazil”. On November 5, 1981, he died in Rio de Janeiro; and hope from him would become an increasingly urgent need for the Brazilian people.

Contributions to Marxism

There are three major moments in Mário Pedrosa's trajectory that highlight fundamental phases of his Marxist political elaboration: the 1930s and the fight against integralism (Brazilian fascism at the time); the initial period of the 1964 dictatorship and its analysis of the international situation and its consequences in the country; and its final phase, when the texts aimed at building the PT stand out. It should also be added that he dedicated a good part of his professional life to art criticism and journalism, activities that extended his intense Marxist elaboration to the field of culture in general, with repercussions in the fields of architecture, museology, sociology and art. psychoanalysis.

Mário Pedrosa carried out a rich and original Marxist production, based on the experiences of the struggles of his militancy in Brazil and his internationalist commitment. He helped to develop an elaboration on the Brazilian reality, based on Marxism, organically incorporating central theses from Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburgo and several other communist theorists. His first theoretical contribution revolved around assessments of the 1930 insurrection; the leadership of the PCB considered that the event was the product of imperialist contradictions between England and the United States; Mário Pedrosa disagreed, stating that there was a reorganization of the dominant classes in Brazil, with a dispute between fractions of the bourgeoisie for internal economic privileges.

These positions were developed in collaboration with Lívio Xavier, in a text entitled “Outline of an analysis of the economic and social situation in Brazil”, which highlighted the inability of the bourgeoisies to carry out the democratic revolution in backward countries. Thus, Brazilian national unity tended to crumble under the weight of the contradiction between the uneven development of capitalism in the regional states, the result of these contradictions. The form of the Brazilian National Federation, under the conditions created by imperialist pressure, resulted in the civil war known as the Revolution of 1930. The analysis interweaves the combined national and international framework of capitalism with the political inadequacies of the native bourgeoisie in building its own project nation.

The Estado Novo coup of 1937 ended the most immediate pretensions of the Brazilian fascists in that decade. But attention is drawn to the emphasis that Pedrosa makes in several texts from that period regarding coup shortcuts and promiscuous relations between fascist gangs and military authoritarian sectors. If in 1937 this path was barred, in 1964 the problem arose again, in that fascism would not be an isolated phenomenon, but an integral and exceptional part of the functioning of the capitalist regime in general, which would continue in the following decades.

In his 1937 texts, Mário Pedrosa already analyzed the relations between fascism and capitalism, as elements of the same social component – ​​later silenced and fought by liberals as if they were from distant universes. With the military coup of 1964, Mário Pedrosa decides to undertake an in-depth assessment and analysis of the perspectives of imperialism, its developments in the Brazilian economy and political struggle and the perspectives of the socialist revolution in the country. In 1966 he published Imperialist Option e Brazilian option, books whose immediate aim was to combat the coup – which demonstrated the interweaving between the history of the formation of capitalism in the country and a more recent combination of coup forces (among the middle classes, with fascist traits, the rural oligarchies, and the external influences of the USA).

The Brazilian conservative right had traits and actions of a fascist character ingrained in its social genesis, which referred to the 1930s – when the phenomenon took shape in the integralist movement, which had not disappeared. The old fascism of the 1930s, which he called “colonial fascism”, continued to be a fundamental part of the arsenal of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, especially when it came to making the fragile democracy unfeasible. What characterized the 1964 military dictatorship was that it did not represent any of the ruling social classes in particular in power, but a peculiar type of “military Bonapartism”, something that was peculiar to it.

This would be the product of equally peculiar conditions, such as a combination of trends and global needs of international capitalism with the national reality of local ruling classes, cornered in the face of a revolutionary situation produced by popular mobilization. As “military Bonapartism”, the dictatorship's action would still occupy the place and role of fascism as an organized mass movement. If in the 1930s there was already a tendency towards greater centralization of the Brazilian state, a condition imposed at the same time by capitalism in Brazil and by the weaknesses of the national bourgeoisie, both internally and internationally, the dictatorship that began in 1964 was seen as the resignation and definitive defeat of the last traces of sovereignty and autonomy of organized fractions of the national bourgeoisie. And this was expressed in the fact that the bourgeoisie had lost control, as a social class, of the “Bonapartist” regime – now in the hands of the military corporation.

The concept of “Bonapartism” was a central tool used in the analyzes that Mário Pedrosa carried out in the two critical periods of the conjuncture in which he acted: the 1930s and the 1960s (those of the two Brazilian dictatorships). For him, Bonapartism is the Marxist concept that best allows the understanding of the permanent oscillation of the political regime of a dependent state. In this way, the so-called “developmentalist populist national cycle” of the post-Second World War is not seen as a specific phase of rupture in Brazilian political and economic history, but rather as an oscillation to the left, under pressure from the masses, of the same regime. Bonapartist politician with common characteristics. With his method of analysis, Mário Pedrosa follows, in a dialectical way, the displacements of the national political regime and its specific economic ballast; the oscillations of the bonapartist regime are understood under the impact of the pressures of the world market and its american nucleus.

Mário Pedrosa also uses another fundamental concept, that of “unequal and combined development”, as an articulating tool for the analysis of the internal oscillations of the Bonapartist regime in the national political conjuncture, which articulates the connections of national and international capitalism. His first denser texts, written in the 1930s, already have this interpretative guideline. And we can observe that his main articles and books, already in the period of the 1964 dictatorship (as The Brazilian Option e The Imperialist Option), dialectically combine these tools, categories and concepts.

The expression of this phenomenon is, for him, the political and economic history itself, the class struggle and its results in the dimension of the country's daily struggle. Understanding what was going on in Brazil since the 1964 coup, and how this situation had arrived, implied understanding the displacements of the Bonapartist regime since the 1930s, its authoritarian and popular-democratic oscillations, but also national capitalism with its internal dynamics and relations with the world market guided by an unequal and combined dynamic.

Mário Pedrosa also became a reference in the use of the Marxist interpretation of art in Brazil – and from a free and revolutionary perspective that opposed the then strict “socialist realism”. In 1933, he inaugurated his future path as an art critic, with a series of conferences analyzing the work of the German artist Käthe Kollwitz, who exhibited works in São Paulo with social themes. If, for Mário Pedrosa, art and politics walked together, the paths to overcome capitalism and free artistic creation converged.

The brutality of capitalism and the media had to be overcome, because the coarse materialism of bourgeois society helped to make culture and the arts a privilege of the rich. Capitalism reproduced cultural misery by commodifying all spheres of society.

Capitalist society transformed the modern working man into someone unable to see the artistic richness of the world, preventing him from having a free and innovative imagination. It would be necessary to provide, through a new artistic education, the possibility of developing children's sensitivity and creativity, the sense of emotions that give man the natural spontaneous impulse to create the new.

His proximity to the French artists of the surrealist movement headed by the French writer André Breton and his Trotskyist militancy opened new paths. In 1938, Breton together with Trotsky and the painter Diego Rivera wrote the “Manifesto for a Revolutionary and Independent art”, defending the total freedom for art and its deeply revolutionary essence. This document was a reference for Pedrosa, as a critic of culture, conceiving the political dimension of artistic creation as broader, collective and profound – as a possibility of freeing humanity from the yoke of capitalism, as an “experimental exercise of freedom”.

Comment on the work

Mário Pedrosa had no illusions about the democratic pretensions of the Brazilian bourgeoisie, much less about the supposedly progressive intentions of the United States in relation to Latin America; he points out that the entire structuring of the US world economic-military complex, its imperial breadth of control and articulation of all aspects of the economy, politics and culture would have been conceived as “counterrevolutionary reforms” in the 1930s.

Here would be the point of intersection of what he conceptualizes as the Nazi and US “totalitarianisms”, with repercussions on the Brazilian conjuncture. There would be a line of continuity, as he highlights in Imperialist Option (Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 1966), which was prolonged submerged by a supposed cold war: “The struggle of the democratic West against the communist East is a fight of fabled dragons to deceive the people”. Democratic and anti-communist rhetoric would only cover up the permanence of the deepest and most sophisticated authoritarianism – that of the USA. Therefore, this is not a tactical shift, but the deepening of a previous strategic orientation of the functioning of the capitalist system, increasingly centralized and concentrated in the hands of the state..

The main objective of the book is to evaluate the new trends of US imperialism, as a continuation of the so-called counterrevolutionary reforms inaugurated by Nazism in the 1930s. the interests for new markets coming from the giant corporations. Enthusiastically compare and discuss advances in the Soviet Union's planned economy; from the point of view of reinforcing the economic role of the working class, he sees them as fundamental to any emancipatory policy. The socialist future, as a necessary horizon, demanded not only a break with the illusions defended by developmentalist and nationalist planners, hitherto hegemonic (before the dictatorship), but also with the new neoliberal devices implanted, from the outside, by the dictatorship.

The prospect of a transition to socialism should be on the horizon and thought of as a concrete and viable solution for the lagging Brazilian economy. This path is analyzed in the book Brazilian option (Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1966). The dictatorship implied the end of national-developmentalist illusions, or of an independent and autonomous path to capitalism in Brazil – defended by the PCB. Mário had the audacity to reflect on a socialist path to overcome: how to break with economic backwardness and not be deceived by the falsifications and illusions of the Brazilian bourgeoisie?

The excess agricultural population would be the first bottleneck, and an agrarian reform would allow the integration of a substantial part of this population with land ownership. Intensive and massive investments would have to be made in the capital goods sector to respond in time and quantitatively to the new demands. The population liberated from the servitudes of the countryside would join the army of industrial and public service workers. Thus, he understands socialist planning as a concrete alternative for Brazil from the 1960s onwards.

His theoretical elaboration in the field of arts and culture is too complex to be summarized in a few lines, but it should be said that it is intertwined with his Marxist and revolutionary vision. your book World, man, art in crisis (São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1986), together with the four posthumous books organized by Otília Arantes – Politics of the arts: selected texts (São Paulo: Edusp, 1995), Academics and moderns: selected texts (São Paulo: Edusp, 1998), Form and aesthetic perception: selected texts (São Paulo: Edusp, 2000), Modernity here and there: selected texts (São Paulo: Edusp, 2000) – bring together the richest collection of texts by Mário Pedrosa on art criticism, although they are far from exhausting his production on art and culture, which is still dispersed in countless magazines and newspapers.

For him, the artist able to approach nature, society, helped in the formation of a class consciousness for workers. Art came from nature and man's increasing ability to control it; the very creation of materials and techniques was reflected in the evolution of artistic styles. Capitalism, however, led man to distance himself from nature. The artists who worshiped the modern as a new god were actually distancing man from rescuing nature, helping to imprison him in the capitalist market – or else supporting a process of bureaucratization, such as he saw in the USSR.

Art and politics walked together, and the paths to overcome capitalism and free artistic creation converged. The brutality of capitalism and the media had to be overcome, because the gross materialism of bourgeois society made the arts a privilege of the rich, reproducing cultural misery by commodifying all social spheres; under such regime, the worker was prevented from developing his artistic perception, hampering his creativity. He thus defends a new education that promotes sensitivity from an early age, the natural human impulse to create the new.

Among his latest books that debate the political situation is The World Crisis of Imperialism and Rosa Luxemburg (Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 1979, in which he rescues the legacy of the Polish revolutionary and her relevance in relation to the workers’ mobilizations that were taking place at the time, resuming many of the reflections of 1966 and assessing that capitalism was experiencing one of its deepest world crises.

In his last book (published while still alive) – About PT (São Paulo: Ched Editorial, 1980) – resumed and reinforced his Marxist political militancy. He defended the need for a free and sovereign Constituent Assembly, which would be a democratic and revolutionary solution to rebuild the nation from below and effectively break with the authoritarian structures of the military dictatorship. He insisted on the urgency of a workers' party and a union federation. However, even placing great hopes in the construction of the PT, he was not deceived nor failed to point out the challenges and dangers of this; it was necessary to undertake a political fight against the numerous attempts that were launched at the time to contain and bind the young and independent Brazilian labor movement.

Thus, Pedrosa wrote in one of his last texts in January 1980 in Journal of the Republic: “The workers' party must act and stand out autonomously as a class… it is necessary to highlight the historical difference that exists between the ruling classes and the working class… the mission of the contemporary proletariat as a class conscious of its own interests”. His message was always explicit: to pave the way for socialism, it was necessary to deepen the class struggle against the bourgeoisie, guarantee its independence.

Among the many works by Mário Pedrosa, we also mention: Socialists and the Third World War (Rio de Janeiro: Socialist Vanguard, 1948); Art, vital necessity (Rio de Janeiro: House of the Student of Brazil, 1949); Panorama of modern painting (Rio de Janeiro: Ministry of Education and Health, 1952); art dimensions (Brasília: MEC–Documentation Service, 1964); Art, form and personalities: 3 studies (São Paulo: Kairós, 1979); From Portinari's murals to Brasília's spaces [org. Aracy Amaral] (São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1981).

Most of Mário Pedrosa's political texts were published in newspapers – and are not yet collected in books.

*Everaldo de Oliveira Andrade is a professor of contemporary history at the University of São Paulo (USP). Author, among other books, of Revolutions in Contemporary Latin America: Mexico, Bolivia and Cuba (Hail).

Originally published on the portal Praxis Nucleus-USP.


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ANDRADE, Everaldo de Oliveira. Mário Pedrosa, the 1964 coup and the critique of developmentalism. São Paulo, Perseus, Feb. 2016. Available at

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